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The Dream Home: A Cautionary Tale

You may say to yourself, this is not my beautiful house. And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here? -- Talking Heads

The date stamp says January 26, 1999, 10:21 a.m. Lucy Young is holding the camcorder, purchased the night before for this very purpose, sitting in the passenger seat, zooming the lens in and out at the oncoming blacktop road beyond the windshield. Husband Andrew Young steers the minivan down FM 2920 in southern Montgomery County, toward the five-acre plot that will someday encompass their dream home. Lucy -- dark-haired, urban-raised and traveled daughter of a Brazilian diplomat -- points out that the camera's vibration dampening feature doesn't help much when the lens is zoomed all the way to telephoto. Blurry video supports her point. Andrew -- bearded and unthreateningly bearish, a mechanical designer of hydraulic pumping units and offshore drilling equipment -- says the jerking image is probably better than it would be on a camera without the dampening feature. Lucy says maybe, but still.

They met in 1985 at a Houston apartment complex where both then lived, got married three years later at the Cypress Creek Christian Community Center in Spring, and lived for the next ten years in northwest Houston, in a patio home that had belonged to Andrew's grandfather. They were saving.

They'd driven these roads often, since sometime in 1992. Saturdays and Sundays for five years, all through southern Montgomery County -- they'd also driven Waller and Fort Bend counties to the west, but found these counties not quite right -- looking for what lots of people look for: a little bit of acreage, close enough to town to make the commute bearable, but out in the trees, away from the city's "hectic pace," where the property taxes and insurance rates drop a little, and a young couple building its dream home can afford to sink a little more into the house itself. Nicer faucets. The good tile. Maybe a Jacuzzi.

In 1996 they put earnest money down on a five-acre plot in a development called Glenmont Estates before noticing that the land doubled as a rainwater drainage ditch for the surrounding properties. They left the earnest money behind when they backed out of the deal. The Youngs drove around some more and found a lot in another development called Miller's Crossing. The development was at the dirt road stage, and the Youngs bought a 1.24 acre parcel choked with undergrowth.

Andrew says, "You've got no idea how big a lot can seem when you have to hack through it with machetes."

Once the lot was cleared, it was clearly too small for what Andrew and Lucy Young had in mind.

"Your own private little park" is how Lucy describes it.

"Nature preserve," Andrew says, thinking big.

The day their lot shrank, the Youngs started looking for a larger one. They looked half a mile away in something called Woodlane Forest, and they just drove around with a map, picking out lots they liked the looks of, for sale or not. The perfect place might not have a sign on it. Later they went to the courthouse and researched the owners and wrote them letters, asking if they would be interested in selling.

They didn't hear much in response, and eventually put down $500 earnest money on a lot that did have a sign. Five days later one of the letter recipients wrote back. He turned out to be the owner of a five-acre parcel that Andrew and Lucy Young had especially liked, and he was willing to part with it. The Youngs took another $500 earnest money hit and unloaded their too-small property down the road in Miller's Crossing.

They had searched and studied and lost money and waited and learned, and they finally had their hands on their perfect five-acre lot in the trees, with a nice ratio of hardwoods mixed in with the pine. Andrew's grandparents in Porter, Texas, had lived on eight country acres while he was growing up. He remembers finding baby rabbits on their land, so he's at least partly wired for the rural experience. Lucy had been an apartment kid, but she followed her husband happily into the dream.

The Youngs sold their patio home to a man who agreed to rent it back to them so they could continue living in it until their new home got built. This would be the biggest investment of their lives, and the couple tried to be careful and thorough. They weren't building anything with their own hands, but if they were going to pay someone to build the home in their heads, the Youngs were going to be hands-on, educated consumers. They found a residential designer to draw up their plans, contracted with a structural engineer to do the drawings and started looking for a builder to bid on the project. They interviewed several over the phone and ruled them out, and eventually took bids from four others, all of which were checked out via the Better Business Bureau and found to be without serious black marks. This being Texas, where residential builders are not licensed, that and word of mouth is about all the research there is to do.

David Allen Builders made the sale. The BBB had no complaints on file for David Allen Builders -- the new company was not a BBB member -- and the only word of mouth was the ad that had first drawn their attention, in a December 1997 real estate section of the Chronicle. But David Allen Builders had a manager named Conrad Kroll who claimed seven years' experience with American Custom Homes, a track record hundreds of houses long and had a trustworthy air about him. Kroll would be the man building the house, he explained, over the course of several meetings with the Youngs. Kroll was the company's expertise. David Allen, absent from early negotiations, was just its money.

The Youngs thought, "This all sounds reasonable to us."

David Allen Builders offered the most attractive quote, and in July 1998, the contract was signed.

"I almost feel guilty," Andrew says now, "being naive enough to fall into this," but at the time, Kroll was winningly convincing, and Young was under the impression that his mortgage company had put the builder through a qualifying test, and there was that perfect lot just sitting there anxiously, waiting for Andrew and Lucy Young's perfect house to materialize.

It was three months later when the slab was finally poured, and Andrew was there to watch. He says he saw the structural rebar just lying flat on the fill dirt, not suspended as it should be, and concrete poured on top of it. When he pointed this out to the foreman present, he says, workers reached into the wet concrete, grabbed the rebar, dragged it upward, dropped it again and left it at that.

The next day, when the cracks started to appear, Andrew called Conrad Kroll.

"I wasn't expecting perfection," Andrew says, "but these just looked a little ominous in their complexity."

Garden-variety surface cracks, Kroll told him. Not a problem.

That was the last time either Young spoke with Conrad Kroll. He stopped returning their calls, and the Youngs were left to deal with David Allen, who assured them that he would finish their house. The Youngs were unimpressed.

"I wished I had met him before," Andrew says now. "Red flags went up."

Allen, Young says, drove a flashy red Corvette and wore his shirt open to let the light bounce off his gold chain necklace. The moneyman struck Young as a fast talker and a braggart, boasting about the money he'd just saved by letting the phone company disconnect his office service for nonpayment. He'd get new phones connected soon, the Youngs say he told them, in his wife's name: Lynn S. Marks.

Andrew Young took Allen to be bragging about his shenanigans with the phone company, and neither this nor anything that followed served to inspire his confidence.

Back in the camcorder's viewfinder, the date stamp says January 26, 1999, 11:12 a.m. Birds are chirping on the audio. Andrew Young is crouched in a stand of trees off to the side of his property, breathing heavily and narrating nervously, videotaping a tan Chevy pickup backing a trailer onto his property. Three men get out of the truck and load both trailer and truck bed with lumber from the job site. About $2,700 worth.

Andrew Young says, "There they go with my wood."

He jogs with the camera back to the minivan, panting Blair Witch-style, and he and Lucy follow the Chevy down Montgomery County blacktops. Andrew and Lucy wonder how close to follow.

"They're being cocky. They're not even bothering to do it at night, like most builders."

At 3:23 p.m. the Youngs are back at their property, and so is the Chevy, back for a second load.

"Okay, I guess I'm going to go ahead and have them arrested at this point."

At 5:13 p.m. the camera shows Montgomery County sheriff's deputies filing reports while the three men in the Chevy wait and make calls on cell phones. The Montgomery County D.A. declined to press charges, and the allegation has been rolled into the Youngs' civil suit. Andrew Young is sure he knows what happened. Lumber that was supposed to go into his house has been stolen, and he thinks David Allen has something to do with it. He'd seen one of the Chevy men talking with one of David Allen's employees the day before, and Young thinks the Chevy man made a deal to buy the lumber.

Which might conceivably have been legal, except that David Allen had never paid for the lumber, and as a result of that nonpayment the lumber company is suing Allen and has placed a lien on Andrew and Lucy Young's property, which was then and remains now nothing but an abandoned detritus-strewn work site with a cracked slab holding up some rotting wall frames. The dream home has come to this, and you can hear the strain in Andrew Young's voice as the camera surveys the trashed lot.

"Somebody like this should be thrown into Huntsville with a bottle of K-Y strapped to him."

There's a touch of embarrassment to the curse, as if Andrew were uncomfortable with the vulgarity of it, and he follows it -- with no one to hear but himself -- almost apologetically with: "Anyway, I'm pretty upset about all of this."


Bill Rice, a veteran of HUD and teacher of construction-related courses at numerous colleges, makes his living as a building inspector and expert witness in small claims court.

"You ever heard the term 'CCC builder'?" he asks. "Typically a builder, let's assume he makes a sale for a $100,000 house. He gets his first draw of 30 percent of that, and he takes that first draw and he buys himself a Cadillac. That's the first C. If he's rolling, he doesn't have to pay his bills, 'cause they're not due till the next month. So then he goes to the next stage, which is the framing stage, and he gets another draw, and instead of paying his bills, he goes out and buys him a Chris-Craft. That's the second C. Then he gets up to the final stage, and if he's rolling pretty good, he's got other houses started and all that -- this is a cash flow maneuver here, this is a strategy the builder uses -- he takes the third [draw] and he goes out and he has to have someone to share that boat and that Cadillac with him, so he has to have the cutie, and that's the girlfriend, and that's the third C."

It's caricature of a stereotype, and Rice knows it, but he has been around construction long enough to also know how stereotypes get to be stereotypes. There's a lot of truth, he says, in that jest. The Youngs, though, are way beyond finding anything funny about it. Bewildering maybe. Frustrating, infuriating, outrageous, but not funny. Everything they've got is tied up in this house, and because David Allen Builders failed to pay numerous subcontractors on the Young house, who have subsequently placed liens on the Young property, everything about this house is now tied up in court. Late at night, and increasingly during the day, the Youngs look for someone to blame. When they do, they keep seeing a man in a red Corvette with reflected sunlight glittering around his neck.

David Allen may not technically be a "CCC builder" -- the Corvette might satisfy the first C, but it is unknown what brand boat he may own, if any, and he is married. But he has slowly revealed himself to the Youngs as, at the minimum, a piece of work.

The signs started appearing as soon as the worried post-slab Youngs hired Rice to be their eyes and ears at the job site. From November 25 through December 30, 1998, Rice filed seven field reports, and the Youngs did not like what their man was seeing. The slab didn't seem to have been cured properly, thus the cracks, some of which continued through elevation rises in a nonsuperficial manner, some of which fissured all the way down to the beams. The slab wasn't even the same shape as the approved design. Anchor bolts were out of alignment at the sills, and door headers specified as two-by-ten were two-by-six instead. Lumber was sitting on the ground exposed to rain and warping. Some lumber was grade-marked inferior to what was called for, and some was not grade-marked at all.

The Youngs wanted David Allen to make it right, and Rice sent a copy of his first report to the builder, requesting corrections and evidence of an inspection of the foundation, which had been poured -- contrary to agreements -- without the presence of the designing engineer.

David Allen flipped out, nearly choking Bill Rice's answering machine the night of November 30, 1998. Between 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m., Allen left 13 messages at the inspector's number. They all said pretty much the same thing:

"This is David Allen with David Allen Builders. I need to know who your insurance carrier is. I'm getting ready to file a lawsuit for $10 million for defamation of character. You do not call me a liar, and you do not call the people that I have Š the most reputable lumber company, a bunch of crooks. Insinuating that to these people, like I'm trying to rip them off. I need to know your insurance agent. I need to know everything about your company, guy. I'm gonna do a total, thorough investigation. I'm gonna put my private eye on it in the morning, and I want to know who the insurance and who the attorney is that represents your company. I've had enough."

Just in case Rice didn't get the message, Allen called back a few minutes later.

"Basically what I'm going to do is put my private eye on it first thing in the morning. I'm gonna find out every asset that you own. Nobody calls me a crook, guy. Nobody. I'm gonna go after every inch you own. I'm gonna keep you in court forever until I destroy you. That's where I'm coming from right now. Nobody calls me a liar, guy. I told you the truth. I never lied to you. I've been very nice. I want to know the insurance company. I want a total list of all your assets. I'm coming after you, guy. I've had enough."

And so on. Allen threatened 20 lawsuits, an FBI investigation, an IRS investigation. He said he would bury Rice and get his license revoked for good measure. Thirteen almost identical messages in two hours.

David Allen requested his first draw for payment from the Youngs' mortgage company in early December 1998. He didn't provide acceptable invoices or paperwork specifics to support expenditures, Rice says, but he did deliver a listing of "bills or expenses for work performed on this project that have been paidŠ." One of these was Wenco Distributors, which had not in fact been paid, and which in fact would later file a lien against the Youngs' property for almost $7,000 in unpaid lumber bills.

The Youngs refused to sign off on the draw.

On December 17, 1998, the Youngs and Bill Rice met with David Allen, and his wife, Lynn S. Marks, who the Youngs say did most of the talking, offering assurances. The meeting, they say, was pleasant enough, but did not lead to any corrections.

Allen later faxed to Rice an independent slab inspection report that judged the slab structurally sound. Rice and the Youngs took it for a sham.

Days later Allen requested his draw again.

The Youngs again refused to approve the draw.

Up in Montgomery County, nothing was built.

In early January 1999 Allen began a fax offensive. To Bill Rice he wrote: "Hi Bill, this is David Allen. Your [sic] a very sick person. I would love to take you to church and pray for youŠ It's not too late to change your ways." The same day, Allen faxed Lucy Young: "Bill is a very sick person that needs a lot of help. Let's pray for him and try to help him." Again, the same day: "Hi Lucy!Š Bill only wants your money. I like you and Andy and want to see your house get built quickly. Don't trust Bill. Please, before it's too late."

By mid-January calls were coming to the Youngs, from Lynn Marks:

"Lucy, this is Lynn Marks. It's ten-thirty on Wednesday morning. I need to let you know that I'm rather disappointed in Bill's response. After our meeting I really felt that the five of us were on the same page. We responded with the format we said we would respond with, that we all agreed to, and that you would then fit it into your response. Quite frankly, he just tore it all apart. I have the very clear, distinct impression he's on your side to make sure we get paid nothing and you get to have the house built for free. I absolutely refuse to do any more work in that regard. I would like you to give me a call back or tell me a time when we can talk or meet without Bill. I will not meet with him again. He is not here for the best interests of all involved. I understand he's on your side, but you know, we can't do business that way. I am willing, if we do not hear from you today, I will file suit. And I hate to say this, but I will do it. Because we feel like we're being stalled and we're putting ourselves in a box to look like we're the bad guys not trying to get a house done when we cannot get any payment for work done. I will file suit against you and Andrew, although I'd rather not do that, and Mr. Rice. And I will do that tomorrow if I do not hear from you today. I'm sorry, I don't like to do that, the holiday season. We cannot afford to be put in this position. It is not good business. It is not good humanitarianism. I'd appreciate your call back."

Allen and Marks's position seems simple: We laid a slab and put up part of a frame, and we're not going to do any more work until we're paid. The Youngs' position was just as easy: The slab is worthless and the framing isn't what we specified, and you people are starting to act sort of erratic and we're not releasing any money until you fix what's wrong.

Bill Rice's position is squishier. On the one hand, because of the proliferation of contractor horror stories like this one, private inspectors are increasingly in demand by would-be homeowners, one of the few early-prevention tools available to buyers in a state heavily lobbied by home builders. On the other hand -- and this seems to be the root of the Allen-Marks argument -- inspectors who visit a site and approve it get paid once. Problems result in return visits and more pay. Big problems might even cause a court case, at which an inspector moonlighting as an expert witness would find yet more work. Bill Rice, with his cane and his war stories, doesn't strike one that way, but one never knows. Rice's third field report does recommend that the Youngs "seek legal advice."

This they did, contacting lawyer Robert Linkin. The Youngs decide the best they can do is to fire David Allen Builders from the job. Allen, Linkin says, wouldn't sign for the certified mail informing him of this decision.

On January 15, 1999, Linkin serves Allen and Marks with notice of intent to file suit for breach of contract and fraud under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act unless damages are paid.

On January 22 Wenco files its lien on the Youngs' property for unpaid lumber bills.

On January 26, after Allen has been fired, lumber is removed from the Youngs' property as Andrew and Lucy videotape.

On April 8, 1999, Linkin files the Youngs' suit against Zovath and Marks. About the same time, Allen sues the Youngs for the money he figures they owe him. Lynn Marks responds with a general denial of all claims. Zovath has no answer on file.

It has come to this.


Andrew and Lucy Young, stalemated, mimic their slab and begin to crack. The camcorder gets a workout with drive-bys of David Allen's West Gray offices and River Oaks home, with special videographic attention paid to license plates. Lucy, who has started her own Web page design business in the meantime, cruises Internet sites such as PublicData.com looking for clues to David Allen's background. Andrew parks himself at the courthouse, researching his nemesis. His hair, he says, has begun to fall out in patches, growing back gray. He and Lucy had been talking about starting a family in their new home, but with no new home, talks have been postponed, and that's causing some stress, too.

Then they discover that David Allen isn't even David Allen's real name -- even though that's what his office sign says, and that's how he has signed his name in correspondence with the Youngs -- and their investigation starts to become an obsession.

Turns out he's David Alan Zovath, though the mistake was easy to make. Courthouse records reveal a list of some 50 assumed names on record, including David Alan, David Kennedy, David Wilson, Dave Matthews and David Brown. When Conrad Kroll told the Youngs that David Allen was the company's moneyman, they didn't realize that he had actually filed a DBA as "The Money Man." And when the BBB told the Youngs that David Allen Builders was a new company with no track record, they'd had no way of knowing, short of a records search, that Zovath had done previous business as "Montrose Place Townhomes," "Allen Homes," "David Allen Real Estate," "L&M Construction," "International Builders" and "David Allen Construction Company."

Had the Youngs known the name Zovath, they would have been able to discover, as they eventually did, a 1995 bankruptcy, more than $20,000 in civil judgments for Bank One N.A. against Zovath in 1997 and a $15,619 judgment for Roofing Supply Inc. against L&M Enterprises in 1999.

The Youngs discovered a civil courts docket of suits against Zovath by plaintiffs, including multiple banks and construction supply companies, and several more against Lynn Marks.

They discovered a raft of lien affidavits filed by subcontractors against Zovath and Marks themselves for various projects. Almost $16,000 unpaid to A-ABC Air Conditioning Company. More than $26,000 unpaid to Sam Bassett Lumber Company. More than $23,000 unpaid to Royal Flush Plumbing II. Nearly $40,000 unpaid to Cox Hardware Inc. And $85,000 unpaid to Jose D. Lujan Construction, the same Jose D. Lujan identified by Andrew Young as one of the three men videotaped loading lumber off the Youngs' site and into the Chevy pickup.

No wonder, the Youngs thought, Zovath needed Kroll.

They discovered that Lynn S. Marks, doing business as Golden Halo Productions, had published her own book in 1999, titled Messages from God: 365 Simple Truths for Success, which described Marks as "a pioneer in the field of business coaching" offering inspirational tapes, inspirational posters, seminars, retreats, personal coaching and keynote addresses.

Messages from God thanks "Dave Allen, my husband" in the acknowledgements before launching into 226 pages of presumably godly business bromides such as "Request more than you think you can or should" and "The key to having money is your willingness to receive it" and "Life continuously sends you teachers, each more intense than the others, until you learn the lesson."

The Youngs were starting to learn the lesson.

They discovered that theirs was not the only David Allen Builders home as plagued as their own.

There was Jose Garcia, who says David Alan Zovath showed up at the closing for his house in Needville claiming that all the subcontractors had been paid. As it turned out, there were upward of $15,000 in five unpaid debts to subcontractors, who later filed liens on Garcia's home. Three filed their liens improperly or too late, "and the bank that I got the loan from ended up settling with the other two vendors, the other two subs," Garcia says. "They took care of the whole thing, luckily for me."

Ken Cavnar, of Reynolds Tile & Flooring, was one subcontractor on the Garcia house, to the tune of $3,000. "The man never paid us for anything we did in Mr. Garcia's homeŠ.We were the last ones in, which was the vinyl and then the carpet, and many times we made an effort to collect it. Now, after the fact, the bank asked us to release our liens so that Mr. Garcia could get a final loan so he could start paying his note down. But he never has paid us Š when you go collect your final draw, you have to sign a paper that you have paid all of your suppliers. That's the only way you can collect the money. And so he's gone and said that when in fact he's not satisfiedŠ.I know he hasn't satisfied us. I don't know who else, but he has not satisfied us for sure."

There's also the Kenyon family home in Waller, which was finished by Frances Kenyon's mother-in-law, Jo Johnson, when Zovath, she says, abandoned the project after taking two draws from the bank and failing to pay his subcontractors.

"We started getting calls from people saying, 'We're not being paid, we're not going to work on that house anymore,' " Johnson says. "From subs. And they wouldn't work out there because he wouldn't pay them. And yet he had drawn the money for it."

The Kenyons fired Allen and reworked their mortgage with Johnson as the builder and finished the house, though Johnson says they had to pay certain subcontractors again for work that should have been paid by Zovath out of the first two draws. Zovath himself filed a $47,000 lien on the Kenyons' property, which was later dismissed on a technicality. Meanwhile, the Kenyons sued Zovath over $13,000 in questioned costs. In response, Zovath filed a general denial of all accusations. The issue is still tied up in court.

What all three properties have in common, aside from David Allen Builders, is DAB manager Conrad Kroll, who left the company before finishing any of the homes. The Youngs, Garcia and Johnson all spoke of Kroll's track record and trustworthiness as key factors in their decision to sign with David Allen Builders.

"I called [Kroll] for a year and a half, and he will not return my call," says Johnson, who considered Kroll a friend. "That is the one thing that hurt me more than anything else. But I think he was so ashamed of the mess that he had gotten into that he just couldn't face us."

Conrad Kroll says David Alan Zovath fired him because the manager took a couple of weeks off to comfort his mother and attend to family matters after his father died. But the absence, Kroll says, was just Zovath's excuse.

"I'm very firm in what I do, and the people I have work for me, I make sure that they get their money. [Zovath]'s the man that has to pay. I'm the one that would stand there and tell him, 'David, these people have to be paid.' Unfortunately I got too involved too deep to even realize the type person he was."

The type of person Zovath was, Kroll says, is the type for whom he would "absolutely not" work again.

"If I was to work for David [again], it would be 'cause there was nothing else out there, and I mean as far as pumping gas for somebody. I just don't want no more part of my life mixed up with him. I mean, I have a very good name, and he destroyed part of my name. By nonpaying. He destroyed part of me that was really valuable to me in my career. I just want to protect what I got left. A lot of these people were my dear friends."

As to whether Zovath hurt Kroll's reputation knowingly or out of garden-variety incompetence, Kroll can't say for sure.

"That's a real tough question to answer, to be perfectly honest."


David Alan Zovath, in three brief phone messages and one faxed missive to the Houston Press , doesn't answer that question.

On first contact, Zovath expresses disappointment in the Youngs.

"We bent over backwards for those people, way above and beyond, I mean, you just have no idea. And we spent a lot of money. And actually they owe me money."

It is Zovath who recommends talking to Kroll, not mentioning that he fired the man, and Kroll does dispute the Youngs' claims about the quality of the slab.

"They've got water surface cracks," he says. "There's nothing structurally wrong with it. The only way to tell if that thing is structurally sound or not is to pop a core sample out of the slab. No one can go and look at a slab and tell you it's a bad slab. There's no way."

But Kroll says he can't speak to anything other than the slab, since he wasn't on the job afterward.

On second contact, Zovath asks that this story not be written, "because I can't talk when I'm under a million-dollar lawsuit, so I mean, I don't think it's fairŠ.I'm not an attorney, but these things do get complicated."

The third message states that Zovath has spoken with his attorney and wants any questions mailed to his P.O. box, and that his attorney will answer any questions that he can. "And then also, if you could please, he wanted to know which attorney you folks have there so that we can put you on notification of any possible problems that could arise."

Written questions were delivered, and on May 9 Zovath responded with a faxed letter stating, in part, "Until there is a court date and this matter is resolved, I can't discuss the details of this case. I can tell by your questions that somebody has been giving you a lot of false information. If you print ANY false information in your newspaper before the court date I will sue your company."

One of the details he had been asked for was a résumé of his professional history in the home-building business.

One reason no court date has been set is that David Alan Zovath filed for bankruptcy on January 3 of this year. It would be his second Chapter 13 filing in the last five years. The bankruptcy, if approved, would take precedence over other suits, at least delaying any judgments. On January 27, five and six days, respectively, before Zovath and Marks were scheduled for depositions, Young lawyer Linkin received a cancellation from Zovath's lawyers, citing the pending bankruptcy for the couple's unavailability. It was, Linkin says, at least the fourth time that Zovath had cancelled deposition appointments.

Linkin hopes to get the bankruptcy thrown out on charges that Zovath's bankruptcy petition contained false statements. A Schedule B form for listing personal property indicates that Zovath, at the time of filing, had $5 cash on hand, no household goods or furnishings, no apparel, no automobiles, no office equipment, furnishings or supplies, and no "other personal property of any kind not already listed." When the form instructs Zovath to "list all suits and administrative proceedings to which the debtor is or was a party within one year immediately preceding the filing of this bankruptcy case," he checks the box for "none." A casual glance at the civil docket dated July 23, 1999, reveals at least 17 suits with Zovath as defendant.

Add Andrew and Lucy Young to that list, if their lawyer can drag Zovath out of bankruptcy. The Youngs tried to sue their mortgage company, Old Kent, as well, on the grounds that their contract required the lender to do at least a credit check before approving the project's builder. Old Kent, they feel, clearly didn't do much credit checking, but a judge dismissed Old Kent from the suit, finding that the lender has no duty in the matter.

The Youngs' wish to hire a new builder to finish their dream home is bogged down in the lawsuits and liens, and Andrew and Lucy just wait. The man who bought Andrew's grandfather's patio home finally had to take possession, and the Youngs moved into the first of several apartments. In the meantime, interest rates have gone up, and the mortgage they arranged back in 1998, they fear, will not buy as much house now as it would have then. Plainer faucets, the mid-range tile. There may finally be no Jacuzzi in the trees.

Ray Crain, as an employee of Credit Management Consulting Services, acting as the agent for Wenco Lumber in that company's suit against Zovath, sounds like a man who has seen it all before. These are not his first unpleasant dealings with Zovath. Back in 1995 he filed a $2,787 lien on Detering Lumber's behalf, but Detering ended up losing that money in Zovath's 1995 bankruptcy. He's also got a lawsuit against Zovath on behalf of Curio Drywall, unrelated to the Young home.

Zovath, Crain says, owes Wenco money. But on the other hand, "the Youngs have inherited a slab they didn't pay for."

Crain hasn't seen the slab in question, but surface cracks are common, he says, and "concrete gets hard, it gets hard, so I don't know exactly what their beef was on the slab."

The conflict is, Crain admits, a big mess. And then it gets bigger.

In a late interview, Crain reveals that not only is he suing Zovath, not only has he placed a lien on the Youngs' property, but he is suing Andrew and Lucy Young on a foreclosure lien as well.

"They had signed a note with us to settle the lien out, and then they reneged on the note. We settled with them for a very reasonable amount, and they paid a down payment, and they never paid up, though, so now they're dragged into a full-blown foreclosure suit."

In theory, says Crain, if he is awarded a foreclosure lien, the Youngs' property could be posted for sale, and whoever buys it -- maybe one of those people who spent $350 at a weekend seminar on how to get rich buying distressed properties -- will have to deal with the lien holders on their own. The Youngs, of course, could buy the property themselves. Again.

Crain deals with this crap every day. He suspects David Alan Zovath likely is not the worst builder around, and he can hardly get emotionally involved in the Youngs' saga. He's in the business of getting money from people who owe it.

"We've sued everybody," he says, "and let God work it out. And if we get a judgment against the Youngs, we're not relegated to just the lien. We can get after the Youngs' other assets. I don't think they understand that."

Andrew and Lucy Young, so told, did not understand that. Neither did they know they were being sued by Crain. They say they had received no billing or payment notifications from Crain and so had yet to send a payment after the initial one. Their lawyer immediately contacted Crain to try to work out payment arrangements, and douse this latest brushfire before it turned the dream home, wooded lot and all, to cinder.

E-mail Brad Tyer at brad.tyer@houstonpress.com.


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